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Inside team Rahm: Emanuel taps best minds in country for advice

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is interviewed his fifth floor City Hall offices Tuesday February 7 2012.  | Richard A.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is interviewed in his fifth floor City Hall offices on Tuesday, February 7, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 14, 2012 8:06AM

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley maintained a closed circle of advisers that got tighter with every passing year and corruption scandal.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel insists that he doesn’t have an inner circle. He actually has a bunch of them.

“I work the phones hard. ... I call a lot of people checking in, trying to find out what are they thinking — whether it’s on the business side, the economics or the government stuff we’re doing,” the mayor told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I don’t have, ‘Here are the only four people I talk to.’ I know you want the most inner of kitchen cabinets, but it doesn’t exist that way. I talk to a lot of different people. ... There’s numerous circles. ... I kind of look at it differently because one of the things I try to fight against here is being isolated, cloistered up here.”

In some ways, Emanuel has a circle of one. The former North Side congressman-turned-White House chief of staff is often the smartest person in the room when it comes to politics, communications and policy.

And when he needs or wants advice, he can easily access the best and brightest minds in the country on a variety of subjects. That has created several major circles of influence:


This circle is indisputably dominated by campaign guru and former White House colleague David Axelrod, whose 30-year friendship with Emanuel makes him a combination father, older brother and campaign manager who serves as the mayor’s external political gut check. Axelrod helped convince Obama to hire Emanuel as White House chief of staff.

“He’s a good friend. But, I would say 95.99 percent of our conversation is about President Obama’s re-election. That’s much to my chagrin. I would like to talk about me,” Emanuel said, acknowledging that he talks to Axelrod three or four times a week.

When Axelrod’s not available for advice, Emanuel turns to: John Kupper, the former Axelrod partner who worked on all of Emanuel’s campaigns and helped him seize Democratic control of the U.S. House; Bill Daley, who succeeded Emanuel as White House chief of staff, and political consultant Peter Giangreco.

Emanuel even keeps the phone lines burning to three Washington D.C. heavyweights: political consultants James Carville and Paul Begala and Bruce Reed, chief-of-staff to Vice-President Joe Biden, with whom Emanuel co-authored a book. All three had surprising input into the mayor’s first budget address.

“I’m not gonna get either Paul Begala or Bruce Reed to come here and be a speechwriter. But I’m not also gonna cut off what I’m trying to do from friends and relationships I have to help us.

“Bruce Reed and I worked on three State of the Unions. Bruce and Paul and I have worked on an innumerable amount of speeches beyond the State of the Union,” the mayor said.

“I asked them all to take a look when the draft was done. It would be nutty for me to have that type of talent that is advising presidents — and advising the president and vice president today — not take a look. I want their set of eyes. ... They came back with a series of edits. We incorporated some — not all, but a lot.”


This group is led by Michael Sacks, the vice-chairman of World Business Chicago charged with spearheading private fund-raising for the NATO and G-8 summits. He’s the mayoral pal whose venture capital firm, Grosvenor Capital Management, L.P., was among Emanuel’s largest campaign contributors. Sacks is also an investor in and board member of Wrapports LLC, which owns the Chicago Sun-Times.

But, Emanuel insists that he also frequently consults: John Canning founder and chairman of Madison Dearborn Partners; venture capitalists Bruce Rauner and David Herro; Boeing Chairman and CEO W. James McNerney Jr.; J.B. and Penny Pritzker; Greg Brown, chairman and CEO of Motorola Solutions; Jeff Smisek, president and CEO of United Continental Holdings, Glenn Tilton, Midwest chairman for JP Morgan Chase and Northern Trust Chairman and CEO Rick Waddell.

Canning, Rauner and Herro are also investors in Wrapports, and Canning is also a board member.


From Day One, Emanuel has been on a collision course with unions that gave his campaign the cold shoulder. But, he still counts two labor leaders in his circle of trust.

John Coli, president of Teamsters Joint Council 25, helped engineer one of the few labor endorsements Emanuel did get and was instrumental in delivering new labor agreements that made McCormick Place more competitive.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez took a pass on the mayor’s race, but has since forged a surprisingly close bond with the mayor after Ramirez’s firm, but classy conduct during the showdown over Emanuel’s failed demand for work rule changes.

Ramirez stuck to his guns, forcing layoffs. But, he subsequently embraced managed competition between city employees and private contractors and forged an agreement with the mayor on a plan to raise monthly health insurance premiums by $50 for city employees who fail to participate in a “wellness program” to manage chronic health problems. He also worked with the mayor on McCormick Place reforms.

“He is somebody I reach out to, talk to and frequently seek his counsel and opinion — even on topics outside of management-labor issues. I have a lot of respect for his opinions and also his approach,” the mayor said.

“We have a lot of very good product because of a mutual cooperation that can benefit the city as a whole, taxpayers and his members. ... You come away either impressed [or discouraged], and I am very impressed with him.”


This circle includes an eclectic mix of business and clergy fit for a mayor who owes his election to black voters. And it needs to be a broad group, since Emanuel has a shortage of African-Americans in top jobs. The religious leaders include former transition team co-chair Byron Brazier, pastor of the Apostolic Church of God, whom Emanuel says he talks to “at least three times-a-month” and Pastor Charles Jenkins, who delivered a prayer at Emanuel’s Millennium Park inauguration.

The black business circle includes: President Obama’s pals Marty Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker; former Commonwealth Edison CEO Frank Clark; Jim Reynolds, chairman and CEO of Loop Capital Markets and former Daley press secretary Avis LaVelle, who worked with Emanuel on Bill Clinton’s campaign and administration. Reynolds is the former CHA board chairman who was part of Emanuel’s recent overhaul of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority overseeing U.S. Cellular Field.


Emanuel didn’t do nearly as well among Hispanic voters and this circle-of-one reflects that fact. Asked whom he consults on Hispanic issues, the mayor threw out only one name: former Emanuel campaign operative Juan Rangel, whose United Neighborhood Organization runs a burgeoning network of charter schools for the Chicago Board of Education.


Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) became Daley’s unofficial City Council floor leader after Bridgeport Ald. Pat Huels (11th) resigned in scandal in 1997. But, there’s nothing unofficial about his role with Emanuel. O’Connor is the mayor’s go-to guy.

When negotiations on a new ward map nearly came to blows, O’Connor came to the rescue, helped broker a compromise, delivered the 41 votes needed to avoid a referendum and used an obscure parliamentary maneuver to muscle it through the Council without delay.

He also delivered a 50-to-0 vote on the mayor’s first budget and a lopsided vote on a lucrative concession agreement at O’Hare Airport’s international terminal that provided the first major test of Emanuel’s Council muscle. O’Connor also chairs a new Council committee that minimized the power of Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th), a former Emanuel rival.

On the second tier is Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th). When the mayor’s willingness to tweak his 2012 budget to accommodate aldermanic concerns paid off in a unanimous vote, Emanuel had his $1-a-year Deputy Mayor Mark Angelson take Austin to dinner at Ruth Chris Steakhouse. The mayor showed up himself bearing a bouquet of roses for Austin, who was genuinely touched.

When Emanuel wants to know how something will play among black voters, he sometimes goes to Austin or Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), the Council’s president pro tem. Austin played a behind-the-scenes role in convincing Emanuel and O’Connor to side with blacks in the protracted fight over a new ward map.


With all the input Emanuel seeks and gets from outside City Hall, this group is not nearly as important as it has been in the past administration. But, there is still, what the mayor calls a “core group” that helps him run his administration.

Pressed to identify the members, Emanuel named Deputy Mayor Mark Angelson; chief-of-staff Theresa Mintle and her first deputy Felicia Davis; chief operating officer Lisa Schrader; Intergovernmental Affairs Director Matt Hynes; IGA Deputy Maria Guerra; policy director David Spielfogel; new communications director Sara Hamilton and press secretary Tarrah Cooper and his scheduler Shannon Loredo.

The mayor also acknowledged that, not a day goes by when he doesn’t talk to Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman is also on speed-dial because of the colleges-to-careers makeover underway at City Colleges.

McCarthy angered Emanuel early on by spilling the beans about police budget cuts, station closings and plans to hire 100 officers this year, but he has since become more tight-lipped. He’s now on the hot seat to keep the peace during the NATO and G-8 summits and maintain early progress in the drive to stop the bloodshed in Chicago’s two most violent police districts.

Angelson is a former RR Donnelly CEO now spearheading the mayor’s efforts to attract private sector jobs, reduce health care costs, solve the pension crisis and deliver on the promises made in his 2012 budget.

Pressed on why he has concentrated so much power into his $1-a-year man, Emanuel said, “I’m very big about analyzing data [so you] can you react to it [and] I always say, `Who owns this?’ I want one person to own something. I am big into accountability because you can’t move the system” without it.

Schrader’s rise from a spokeswoman for the Office of Budget and Management under Daley to a powerhouse under Emanuel is a fascinating study in political survival and vacuum-filling.

Sources said her toughness and institutional knowledge came in handy during the budget process, when department heads were trying to wiggle out of making deep cuts.

“Everybody was playing tricks. She wouldn’t stand for it. She has the history. It’s tough to imagine where we would have been without her,” one source said.

Schrader works closely with Hynes, the low-key son of former Cook County Assessor Tom Hynes and brother former State Comptroller Dan Hynes. Matt Hynes’ lobbying strength lies more in Springfield than in Chicago, which explains why Emanuel has done well there and why Hynes spends so much time there. It helps that Emanuel does a lot of his own lobbying.

Another surprise power is Guerra, another Daley holdover who has emerged as one of the most powerful Hispanics in the new administration by helping Hynes and Emanuel navigate City Council politics.

You can’t talk to Guerra for more than five minutes without her cell phone ringing from an alderman asking for something. She lets Emanuel know what aldermen will and will not tolerate.

Among city department heads, the teacher’s pet is probably Water Management Commissioner Tom Powers, another Daley holdover. Powers has emerged as Emanuel’s go-to-guy on infrastructure projects because he has promoted ways to do work more efficiently without tearing up streets multiple times for different projects.

When Emanuel more than doubled water and sewer rates over the next four years, it was with confidence in Powers’ ability to deliver the massive project of rebuilding Chicago’s aging water system on time and on budget.

Another aide Emanuel neglected to mention, but probably should have is his $74,988-a-year “body man” Mike Faulman. Whenever you see the mayor, there’s a young man standing nearby with a water bottle. That’s Faulman, the former White House staffer who serves as the mayor’s personal valet.

Faulman is with the mayor morning, noon and night, has both of Emanuel’s cell phones in his pocket and uses them to call people on demand while riding in the car with the mayor. He’s important, simply because of his constant access.

Emanuel is demanding, controlling, thin-skinned and tends to blow hot-and-cold with people. He’s already gone through one communications director. Unless he mellows, he could have a revolving door.

The bottom line is he is a driven mayor who is constantly checking the pulse of all kinds of different people, but never lets anyone get too close — not even the business leaders who are helping him lure jobs to Chicago.

“Do we happen to send each other holiday cards? Yeah. Do we happen to have dinner periodically? Yes. [But] what’s valuable is not the intimacy, but the immediacy of information and being able to execute what I think is important for the city,” he said.

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